Forget everything you think you know about millennial employees

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SAN DIEGO — Cara Silletto was 15-years-old, hanging out at home one day after school, when her mom came home from work early. Silletto saw that her mom was crying, and she instantly knew what that meant.

Her mother had been laid off again — a heartbreak that would occur three times before Silletto reached college. Each time there were no warning signs and these experiences would profoundly shape how the president and chief retention officer of Crescendo Strategies — an organization that seeks to help employers reduce turnover — viewed workplace loyalty.

“My mom taught me never to rely on a job or a spouse for my livelihood,” Silletto said at the National Association of Health Underwriters 2019 annual convention. “Which is very different from how she was raised, which was ‘you should be lucky that they let women work.’”

Silletto, who categorizes herself as an older millennial, isn’t alone in having learned from the previous generation’s example — it is at the core of how and why millennials view the workplace as they do. This is why, she said, there are many misconceptions about working millennials. The stereotypical view is that they are lazy, selfish, unwilling to work hard and don’t have any loyalty. But millennials are more complex, Silletto said. Instead, they are a generation of workers that tend to look out for their own best interest first.

Millennials saw the way their parents were treated by their jobs and how their parents worked themselves to the bone, missing out on important life moments. Silletto can attest to that herself, as she says her dad was a workaholic father.

Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, according to Pew Research. Yet, the majority of those managing these workers are still Gen Xers and baby boomers. Older employers looking to retain this talent must be armed with a better understanding of where the generation is coming from.

Silletto works with employers to help them understand why millennial stereotypes are wrong and create innovative strategies to keep them with the same company longer. One reason millennials are job hopping has to do with the elimination of middle management positions, she says. Employers have taken away a stepping stone for younger workers. If they see no opportunity for growth, millennials are not going to wait years for a better position to open up at the same company.

“They want some kind of advancement,” Silletto added. “It doesn’t have to be an official promotion with a title change and more money, but they do want to advance their career on a regular basis.”

This is a communication opportunity for employers, if a new position isn’t available, speak with the employee about it and figure out a mutually beneficial way for that person to grow within the organization. Cross training, mentoring opportunities and earning certifications (depending on the industry) are a few ideas Silletto suggested.

Also see: Culture is what employers ‘do when no one is looking’

Another reason people leave companies is because of bad onboarding procedures. Without structured onboarding things can become very compliance focused and employees can feel as though they are expected to know and remember everything from the first day through forever. Instead, the more successful companies have robust onboarding over a long period that includes company history, understanding the culture, introductions to company VIPs, and videos and other media to engage the new hire.

Another mistake companies make is to seek out what Silletto calls “old soul millennials.” These are young people who do well in a traditional work structure, who are motivated by money and are conventional in their work ethic. While there is nothing wrong with being this kind of worker, the mistake employers make is to assume all millennials are like this and the ones who aren’t are just lazy.

One of Silletto’s employer clients hired a woman who is a benefits adviser and an insurance agent. She was seen as the golden child by her managers, who in turn held her colleagues to that standard.

“Her parents are from India and they set very different expectations on her as a child and set a different work ethic as a young adult,” she said. “So of course she is blowing everyone out of the water and everyone holds the other people on the team to her standard and I had to tell them to stop it.”

In the past, companies would have had a full staff of people like the worker Silletto described, she noted, which is why the employer in that example took the “why can’t you be more like her?” attitude, when it came to the woman’s other co-workers. This can foster resentment and high turnover.

But it isn’t enough for employers to understand why workers leave, they need to know why they stay too. Employers who believe someone is staying with a company for years out of affection and blind loyalty are not seeing the greater picture.

“Sometimes when I ask that question people say ‘oh, they love the clients we serve. They love what we do. They love their job and team and that is why people work for our organization,’” she says. “When we dig a little deeper we find out they’re sitting on a big bank of paid time off or they get all kinds of flexibility … but if they go somewhere else, they have to start from scratch again. That’s what we call golden handcuffs.”

This is another area where the misconception about millennial loyalty comes from, Silletto said. Millennials are job hopping from company to company and industry to industry, not because they lack loyalty, but because they are more willing to take the risk.

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